Willy de Clercq, EC commissioner for trade and external relations, said in a statement that he profoundly regretted the U.S. decision to impose sanctions beginning Jan. 1.
"The U.S. measures are totally unjustified and against international conventions, namely GATT rules," he said, referring to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the body regulating world trade.The U.S. sanctions affect $100 million worth of EC goods. Total trade between the two giant partners last year amounted to $166 billion.
The community imposed an internal ban on growth-promoting hormones in meat production in response to consumer pressure, and waived it for a year - until the end of this month - on imports to allow time to negotiate with the United States.
Washington argues that there is no health risk to humans from eating hormone-treated U.S. meat since U.S. farmers use only safe products. It says the EC's objections amount to a thinly veiled trade barrier.
Efforts to find a solution before the deadline have failed, and the EC ban will shut out some $100 million worth of U.S. trade from Jan. 1.
"Every country, and the community as such, has a duty to take the measures it thinks fit to protect the health of its consumers and to apply them in a non-discriminatory manner," De Clercq said.
He has consistently said that other exporters of meat to the community are all prepared to re-
spect EC requirements and that there is no reason to make an exception for U.S. meat.
But the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee said Wednesday that some European farmers still use growth hormones like those at the center of the dispute.
"The fact is however that their own own farmers, not withstanding their objections to growth hormones, grow their meat with growth hormones," said Sen. Patrick Leahy on "CBS This Morning."
"They realize as we do that those hormones are out of the meat before they're slaughtered. So that's really not the issue," said Leahy, D-Vt.
U.S. Trade Representative Clayton Yeutter said the stiff duties will go into effect unless the Europeans back down.
The meat ban - which is to be applied to all European suppliers, not just the United States - is scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1. Australia, New Zealand, Brazil and Argentina already have agreed to ship only hormone-free beef to Europe.
Yeutter, who is President-elect Bush's choice for agriculture secretary, said the European ban constituted an unfair trade practice because there was no scientific evidence that the hormones, which are used to increase bulk, cause any health effects in humans.
"We have tried repeatedly to bring this issue to a scientific dispute settlement panel under (the GATT) in order to have it resolved," Yeutter said. "However, our European counterparts have blocked our efforts."